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May 5, 2008
I spent this past weekend at the Social Venture Network (SVN) conference in NJ.   If anyone thinks “for-profit” and “do good” can’t go hand in hand, they should spend a few minutes as a fly on the wall of one of these gatherings.  It’s a truly remarkable group of caring, passionate, committed business leaders.  

The organization has been around since 1987 and includes among its alumni and members the founders of Ben & Jerry’s, The Body Shop, Tom’s of Maine, Calvert Funds, Stonyfield Farm, Seventh Generation and many other entrepreneurial companies re-defining what’s possible for business.  The conferences include lots of time for meeting and chatting, along with panel discussions on various mission-driven topics and presentations by inspirational leaders. 

One of the new themes I noticed this year was a recognition that big corporations are rapidly embracing the principles that we’ve been talking about for years.   While many of us at SVN have thought of ourselves as leading the way toward a more sustainable future, big business (for the most part) has historically ignored us as being on the fringe.  No longer. Today major corporations are seeing socially and environmentally responsible companies as the leaders – emulating their practices to appeal to a more socially and eco-conscious consumer base.
 

Of course, that’s fantastic news.  Widespread adoption of sustainable practices is exactly what we’ve been trying to achieve for years.  But for some it’s also a bit daunting when a big company with deep pockets and great reach suddenly starts selling a similar product (or worse, just uses similar marketing messages).  The reality though is that few big companies can truly provide equivalent solutions.  They’re either too entrenched in their existing model or they don’t have the passion and entrepreneurial approach to be authentic.   In the end, I suspect many of the big companies will choose to acquire the smaller mission-driven companies to accelerate their learning and penetration into the more “conscious” markets.  Stonyfield Farm (yogurt) is a great example – acquired by the giant food company, Groupe Danone,  the company has been allowed to run as a wholly independent subsidiary.  
 

Bottom line, the game is changing fast as big corporations are responding to consumers and becoming more green. That said, most big companies have a long way to go - and thus SVN has a healthy future as “sustainable practices” continue to evolve and entrepreneurs will inevitably be on the leading edge of change.
 
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Posted: May 5, 2008 7:15pm

 

 
 
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Randy Paynter
, 1
Hillsborough, CA, USA
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